After the shocking death of a disturbed patient, psychiatrist Dr. Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens) comes into possession of the ancient tribal mask that supposedly drove the young man to his doom. When Barnes puts on the mask, he is assailed with nightmarish visions of monsters, occultists, and ritual torture. Believing that the mask has opened a portal to the deepest recesses of his mind, the doctor continues to explore this terrifying new psychic world even as the mask reveals a latent violence in Barnes' nature that threatens those closest to him.
Shot in Toronto on a shoestring budget, THE MASK (retitled Eyes of Hell for its American release) claims the distinction of being the first feature-length Canadian horror movie. Director Julian Roffman turns the act of wearing the anaglyph 3D glasses into part of the theatrical experience: when Barnes' voice intones the immortal words "Put the mask on, now!," the audience puts on their glasses to witness the doctor's visions, a riot of psychedelic imagery rendered in bright, blazing color. Premiering at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival, this edition of THE MASK was digitally restored by the 3-D Film Archive from the best surviving 35mm film elements.
ONE NIGHT IN HELL (3-D Animated Short): From internationally award-winning animation studio and production company Unanico Group, and visionary rock musician Brian May, a 3D phenomenon of 1860s Paris is unleashed on the 21st century. ONE NIGHT IN HELL is a devilish and spectacular animation short that tells the story of one skeleton s journey into a stereoscopic Hell. The film features exclusive new music from Brian May & the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and has a Dolby Atmos track.
Put the mask on, now!"
Sometimes a movie just knows how to market itself in order to be a success. The film could have a killer first trailer, a beautiful poster, an amazing cast - or it could have none of those things. In the case of the Julian Roffman directed film 'The Mask' from 1961, it isn't the film's story, the cast, or the trailer that got people to plant themselves in theater seats, it's the film's clever, albeit gimmicky, use of 3D that turns what could amount to be a tedious thriller into something chilling and altogether frightening.
Dr. Allan Barnes (Paul Stevens) is a psychiatrist by trade with a thriving practice. He enjoys helping patients heal their mental wounds, but one such patient, a Michael Radin (Martin Lavut) is putting Barnes' commitment to the science and care of mental health to the test. It would seem that the young Mr. Radin believes he is being possessed by an ancient tribal mask that was on loan to him from the museum he worked at. As an archeologist, it wasn't uncommon for Mr. Radin to check out items for personal study, but this mask has become an obsession. He believes the mask has taken control of his will and forces him to commit horrible crimes - only no one will believe him, not even his doctor. After mailing the mask to Dr. Barnes, Mr. Radin commits suicide fueling the mystery behind the mask and its legendary powers.
With police investigator Martin (Bill Walker) tying a recent string of murders to Radin and his suicide, Dr. Barnes' worst fears about his patient are confirmed. However, when the mask arrives in that day's mail, Barnes sees an opportunity to confirm or deny the powers of the mask first hand. After experiencing nightmarish visions, Barnes sees for himself that Mr. Radin wasn't lying or in a state of psychosis - the power of the mask is real! Barnes also sees the chance to further understand the human psyche in ways never before thought possible.
Because he believes his psychological training will protect him, Dr. Barnes begins a series of experiments wearing the mask. Even as each nightmarish vision becomes more and more horrendous, even as he begins to lose time and can't account for his whereabouts, Dr. Barnes is convinced that he can withstand the horrible powers of the mask. For those who love Dr. Barnes and care for him, they'll find out in horrible ways that no man has the will to withstand the terrible and murderous powers of the mask!
'The Mask' is a movie that knows what it is - a low-rent psychological thriller - and ups the ante by utilizing the then state of the art 3D technology as well as recording a disturbing and bizarre soundtrack to kick up the experience. This isn't so much of a film that relies on expert acting, finely crafted screenwriting, or smart direction to get the desired frightful effects, this is an experience movie. 'The Mask' is one of those films whose visual stylings and auditory manipulations are the creative driving force for the film to exist at all. While under most circumstances this would be an annoying or even boring way to deliver a film, but in the case of 'The Mask' the results are outright chilling. This film also enjoys the title of being the first feature-length horror film to be produced in Canada!
While all due credit should be given to Paul Stevens, Martin Lavut, Claudette Nevins, and Bill Walker for their fine performances, it's actually the cinematography by Herbert S. Alpert and 3D photography Slavko Vorkapich, the impressive editing by Stephen Timar, and the psychedelic sound design work by Willard Goodman and Dick Vorisek who deserve an abundance of credit. Had any of these technical aspects of the film faltered in the slightest bit, the whole endeavor would have come tumbling down like an avalanche. The film itself may be rather bare bones and simple, but once the mask slips over Paul Stevens' face - the experience becomes terrifyingly delightful. This is also where a 3D presentation is an absolute must. In 3D, the film's fright sequences become visual nightmares captured on film. In 2D, while odd, appear to be a bizarre work of performance art and diminish the value of the film.
How one appreciates 'The Mask' rests entirely on how well one enjoys the 3D viewing experience. If you're someone that has an unending love of 3D and views the medium as a means of creating an immersive experience, then you should have a grand time watching 'The Mask.' If you are someone that believes that 3D offers no additional value to the viewing experience or are someone who is turned off by 3D, then I am sad to say 'The Mask' simply isn't for you. While a 2D presentation is available, it just doesn't offer the same visceral visual effect that the 3D presentation provides.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
As a joint release from Kino Lorber and 3-D Film Archive, The Mask arrives on Blu-ray pressed onto a BD50 disc. Housed in a standard case, the disc loads to a static main menu. The 3D viewing option is set as default so if you are intent on viewing the film in 2D you must select that option on the main menu.
Sporting a newly restored image from the original 35mm elements, the results for this 1.66:1 1080p transfer are jaw dropping. For a classic 3D film recently restored, this transfer ranks in this reviewer's opinion as one of the best 3D restoration efforts put forth and stands with classics the likes of the original 'House of Wax.' In 2D, the film maintains a rich and vivid black and white presentation. With inky blacks and a sharp and crisp greyscale, the image offers fantastic clarity depth, and beautiful detail levels throughout. The print would appear to be in immaculate shape as only some very occasional slight speckling is even detectable. Some of the in-cameral optical effects have a softer view to them, but those are issues indicative of the source elements rather than an issue with this transfer.
On the 3D side of things, this presentation is a real stunner. Part of the film's charm or gimmickry was the notion that if you saw it in theaters you would be prompted to put your 3D glasses on and take them off when the sequence finished. In this instance, there is no need to remove the 3D glasses. While formatted for 3D throughout, the image retains a 2D quality until the mask is put on and the visual nightmare begins. Once that mask slips on, the 3D kicks in beautifully. It's a tad jarring at first, but the effect is a gorgeous combination of horizon depth extension as well as a bunch of leap out of the screen effects. Because the camera keeps still and doesn't try to throw too many quirks at the viewer, the 3D image is relatively stable. Only a few times did I ever notice any kind of crosstalk effect as object leapt off the screen. Ghosting was a virtual non-issue here. It may be a gimmicky use of 3D, but 'The Mask' nails its three-dimensional presentation with this outstanding transfer.
As amazing as the 3D imagery may be for 'The Mask,' the nightmarish effect wouldn't be worth a whole heck of a lot without the killer DTS-HD MA 5.1 and DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio tracks to amp up the psychedelic fun. Recorded in a process dubbed as "Electro-Magic Sound," 'The Mask' earns full marks for these impressive and resonate audio tracks. Either one you chose, the 5.1 or 2.0, the mix is strong and offers a perfect balance between the film's quieter conversational moments and the surreal nightmare world that Paul Stevens endures whenever he puts on the mask. Dialog is crisp and clean and never a struggle to hear. The sound effects elements, dialog, and the film's score by Louis Applebaum have plenty of atmosphere and presence in both tracks. Imaging is a bit all over the map since channel movement is regulated to whatever weird thing may be happening on screen at any given moment. If I was forced to choose between the tracks, I would actually select the 2.0 over the 5.1 mix. While the 5.1 one does offer a more immersive surround quality to it, the 2.0 has a more abrasive and in your face feel to it that when you view in the context of this movie and the nightmare scenes just feels more authentic and effective.
Audio Commentary: Film historian Jason Pichonsky runs this commentary solo, it's an interesting commentary and offers up plenty of information about the production. The commentary does sound written and read from a script, but it's also scene specific and proves to be entertaining and fun.
Julian Roffman: The Man Behind the Mask: (HD 21:57 2D or 3D) A very interesting if not slightly heartbreaking look at the history of the film producer that can easily be credited with creating the Canadian film industry. Even for a relatively static by the books short documentary, the 3D imagery and converted 2D still photos works well.
Trailers & TV Spots -
Original Theatrical Trailer: (HD 2:47 3D) The trailer really puts the film's 3D element front and center and relies on another appearance of Jim Moran to sell the film rather than showcasing the film's story.
Reissue Theatrical Trailer: (HD 1:49 3D) This trailer focuses on the horrific elements of the story rather than hinging on the use of 3D to grab an audience.
TV Spot: (HD 1:00 3D) A fun TV spot that sells the horror and showcases the film's retitle "The Eyes of Hell"
TV Spot: (HD 0:30 3D) A shorter version of the sixty-second TV spot.
3D Sequences in Anaglyph: (HD 16:07) The Red/Cyan glasses aren't provided and if you need a set, there are some solid tutorials online to help you make a pair. I still had an old set and found the sequence interesting in this format, but the coloring becomes difficult to see the full 3D effect at times.
The Films of Slavko Vorkapich:
The Life and Death of 9413, A Hollywood Extra (1928): (HD 13:37) It's so impressive to see a silent-era 3D short like this in such great shape. While the short on its own is a pretty sad and desperate look at someone trying to make it in Hollywood, the 3D effect is an interesting complement to the visual styling of the short. There isn't a lot of added depth, but you can still see and appreciate some of the 3D effects.
Montage Sequences (1928-1937): (HD 11:09) This is some very impressive early 3D work that starts out with a montage during prohibition. As each montage progresses it's clear to see that the technology and the filmmaker's grasp of the format were improving.
Abstract Experiment in Kodachrome: (HD 2:22) A strange montage of shapes and colors and how they're used to create depth and movement. Also features one heck of a strange soundtrack!
Short Animated Film, One Night In Hell: HD 7:24 2D or 3D) This stop-motion and CGI animated short is a beautiful work that provides an impressive amount of three-dimensional depth that has plenty of pop out effects while the horizon pleasantly looks like it stretches back into infinity.
Love or hate 3D 'The Mask' is a heck of a cinematic endeavor. While the film itself may not be the greatest thing ever conceived story wise, the incredible nightmarish 3D imagery and intense and jarring soundtrack ensure that viewers are never bored. Kino Lorber and 3-D Film Archive have done a magnificent job bringing this Blu-ray together with an absolutely stunning A/V presentation in 2D or 3D, as well as a wide selection of interesting extra features to dig through. Call this one highly recommended.